Why American Kids Will Not Rule the World

Hi tzhsydibys
Readers! Christine Gross-Loh’s articles on HuffPo have been generating a lot of attention — with reason. She’s great! Thanks to her global perspective, she can attest that the worry and hovering so common in America represent a distinct and unusual type of parenting, not just the “instinct” many here feel it is. Meantime, she’s is a mom of four and author of the just published book, Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us. Visit her at www.christinegrossloh.com! -L.


When our family first moved overseas to Japan, I was stunned to see so many little kids out on their own. The first time I saw a six year old getting on a train by herself, I actually thought this was negligent parenting. (It’s understandable: I had come straight from America, where this kind of thing was totally unthinkable.)

But it didn’t take long for our kids to become used to a freedom they had never imagined being able to experience. Of course, for me there were still jarring moments that reminded me that I’d come from a totally different world – like the time my friend told me she was having her son take the bus to a new location, kind of far away, for soccer practice. Instead of doing what I assumed she would — writing down the directions for him and pressing the correct change into his hand – all she did was hand him a transit map.

When we returned to the US five years later, our kids – who became used to walking a mile to school from the time they were in first grade, and going to the park any time they wanted to meet up with friends – were confused by a culture that kept giving children so many messages that not only are they not capable, they are fragile and must be bolstered constantly. We kept wondering: why did that father over there praise his toddler son for riding a merry go round (“Good riding!”)? Why did those grandparents over there lavishly praise their little granddaughter for….drinking water? Why did that eight year old not know how to butter his own bread because he wasn’t “allowed to use a knife?”

Soon after my return, an American college professor told me how she showed her students some photos of a recent trip to Japan she’d taken. One photo was of a group of first graders, all wearing the same yellow hats that all first graders do there when commuting to school in Japan. The yellow hats are a signal to the community around them: “Look out for us.” But the professor’s college students – products of a culture that had taught them to be suspicious — gasped. “Here in the U.S., those hats would make those kids a target!”

It’s obvious we’re experiencing an erosion of trust: in what our kids can do and in our wider community.  Fear instead of trust prevails even though statistics show so many of our fears about safety are overblown, and research shows us that the greatest safety protection we can give children is to give them practice in exercising their judgment and competence. Children in many countries are encouraged to hone this competence because it’s considered such an essential way to raise kids who can keep themselves safe.

This is what’s most ironic: although we often think of so many other nations as less free than our own, and we love the idea of raising independent, free kids, somehow we’ve gotten it backwards: our children are the ones who seem to have the least freedom and least capability, all in the name of protecting them. Change won’t come overnight, but in the meantime we can ask ourselves, are there small steps we can take, empowered by the knowledge that there is surely a child somewhere, somewhere in the world who is doing these things too?

Small steps like these:

-Letting a five year old child ride a bike around the neighborhood by himself

-Letting an eight year old take some pocket change and go into a store to buy herself a treat (one that she chooses)

-Biting your tongue when you automatically start to say “be careful” or “good job.”

-Teaching your four year old how to use a knife and a cuttingboard

-Encouraging a preschooler to climb a tree

It’s eye-opening to hear what other parents do to give their children a more Free-Range childhood. What other suggestions do you have? – Christine

Japanese kids in their yellow hats. Photo from Fodor’s Travel Guides.

, , , , ,

106 Responses to Why American Kids Will Not Rule the World

  1. pentamom June 3, 2013 at 10:20 am #

    “-Biting your tongue when you automatically start to say “be careful” or “good job.”

    Not sure about this one. I mean, if she means literally “automatically” as in “without regard to whether the kid’s done a good job of any value or not,” I could see that. But I have no problem with telling a child he’s done a good job every time he actually does one, as long as the praise is just that — simple, not gushing, and saved for when he’s demonstrated some actual diligence or competence, not merely just managed not to make a bigger mess than was there before.

    And I see nothing wrong with “be careful” in any context, so long as the kid understands that “be careful” doesn’t mean “don’t do anything that will muss your clothes.” People who chop down trees and climb Mount Everest need to be careful, too — more than people who don’t do things like that. Learning to be careful WHILE doing not absolutely bubble-wrap safe things is a skill, not a weakness.

  2. Forsythia June 3, 2013 at 10:24 am #

    The infantilization continues into young adulthood, and my teen sons are actively exploring going to college outside of the US so they can actually be allowed to be adults.

  3. pentamom June 3, 2013 at 10:24 am #

    “Here in the U.S., those hats would make those kids a target!”

    Not only does that show our particular cultural malady, it’s dumb/funny, because it’s not as though people need yellow hats to notice that the people are wearing them are small children. But we so reflexively run everything through this filter of “that will make my children more vulnerable” that we don’t even stop to think whether it actually WILL in any meaningful way. Even in a world that was wall to wall predators, a 42″ kid wearing a yellow hat is not more obviously a 42″ kid than one not wearing a yellow hat.

  4. Arlington Mom June 3, 2013 at 10:25 am #

    Fantastic perspective. I trust my 7 and 5 year olds. I’m more worried about getting turned into the police for letting them go around the block themselves!

  5. Yan Seiner June 3, 2013 at 10:43 am #

    All is not lost. I was at our local rock climbing gym yesterday. Two kids walked in wearing bike helmets. Both pulled out their membership cards and scanned them, took their climbing shoes out of their packs, set up the belay and started climbing.

    The older one was maybe 10; his sister was probably 8. No parents anywhere in sight.

  6. Natalie June 3, 2013 at 10:51 am #

    I also see no reason not to praise kids. Indeed, if you praise them, it helps instill confidence. If you tell them that they’re smart, creative, work hard, strong, funny, etc, they believe it.

    I also think advising kids to be careful is necessary in some situations. An exasperated “mommy, I KNOW!” Is a pretty good indicator that my 6 yr old doesnt need to be told of whatever danger to be careful of.

    Other than that, good post.

  7. Jen June 3, 2013 at 11:03 am #

    We live on a quiet street, where the footpath is buffered by residents’ parking spots in front of their houses. We’re giving our 2-year-old a taste of independence and agency by letting him ride up and down on his scooter on quiet weekend mornings, with the instruction that when he can’t see us anymore (around a corner on each end), he needs to turn around and come back the other way.

    The look of pride on his little face when he learned that lesson (I came back, mummy!) was priceless.

  8. Rachel June 3, 2013 at 11:05 am #

    I bite my tongue on “be careful” pretty often. I assess risk and usually decide any hurt will be minor enough to teach, not maim.

    She’s 2.5. Last week we let her loose with safety scissors. This weekend she started learning how to pin fabric and really wants to learn how to use the sewing machine.

    And I’d love to get one of those yellow hats.

  9. K June 3, 2013 at 11:08 am #

    Arlington Mom – I wonder about the same thing.

    I trust my children in ways that my friend’s often consider foolhardy. But, in ways that I consider to be appropros for their level of understanding, maturity, and comprehension. If they can be trusted, and expected to show responsibility – they practice those skills for future development.

    It’s a pity that so many feel constrained for cultural/legal reasons from reasonable growth and development.

  10. David Bernstein June 3, 2013 at 11:14 am #

    Love this piece and couldn’t agree with it more. Here’s my take on it: http://www.the-big-shift.net/2013/05/my-8-year-olds-quest-for-fire.html

  11. lihtox June 3, 2013 at 11:14 am #

    I wonder what purpose the hats serve, since it’s obvious they’re kids. Maybe it improves visibility? Or maybe it’s to say “Yes, I AM supposed to be on the train, I’m not some lost kid.”

  12. S June 3, 2013 at 11:15 am #

    My children are allowed to do thing, they just don’t want to – because none of the other kids are doing them. After we moved recently, I did a dry run to the park with them (and reminded them of how to use the crossing light to safely cross the road over to it). Then I told them they could go on their own on their bikes next time. They gleefully did – three times. But there was never another child at the park. Not one of those three times. So now they have no interest in going. I kick them out and tell them to ride around the neighbourhood – and they do, for ten minutes. Then they come home. No kids, mom. No kids. Back home, before we moved, they’d be out until dinner time, come in for dinner, eat, and then rush back out until bedtime routine time. Because there were kids out there. It’s HARD to be free range when there is no one to range with. And a single sibling isn’t enough. In that case, the air conditioning and the electronics and board games inside really are more exciting – if there’s no motivation of friends to get you out…in they stay. I wish it weren’t so, but I can’t really blame them. I’d be hot and tired outside without the distraction of friends too. Sigh. I know there are lots of kids in this neighbourhood – I’ve been told where they live, (and told my kids, so they can try to make friends), but I can’t say I ever see them outside.

  13. Rachel June 3, 2013 at 11:16 am #

    My children don’t listen to “be careful” at all, they don’t know what I am mentioning. They prefer actual info, like “Its hot here” “that object my fall” even “watch your step, I am worried you’ll slip”.

  14. S June 3, 2013 at 11:21 am #

    “All is not lost. I was at our local rock climbing gym yesterday. Two kids walked in wearing bike helmets. Both pulled out their membership cards and scanned them, took their climbing shoes out of their packs, set up the belay and started climbing.The older one was maybe 10; his sister was probably 8. No parents anywhere in sight.”

    One of the reasons this doesn’t happen more often is that the businesses don’t allow it. In MOST places like this, they would have a rule – no unsupervised children under the age of 12. (In some cases 15.) I’d be happy to let my kids ride up to the pool themselves and swim, but they aren’t allowed in unsupervised under the age of 12. In the gym, they can’t go in AT ALL until they are 12, then only with a parent. Only at age 15 can they go in unsupervised. Are you sure these kids were 8 and 10? I bet they were 12 and 13.

  15. Taradlion June 3, 2013 at 11:24 am #

    I think the point of was not saying “good job” for things that require no skill or effort (“why did that father over there praise his toddler son for riding a merry go round (“Good riding!”)? Why did those grandparents over there lavishly praise their little granddaughter for….drinking water?).

    I think giving kids positive feedback on a job well done, or appreciation for doing something kind or helpful (even if it is their chore to do) is a good thing, but often kids are praised for everything from doing well on a school project to going to the bathroom…”good drinking?” Really?

  16. pentamom June 3, 2013 at 11:31 am #

    Taradlion, I agree that was probably the point, I just wanted to give the other side — it’s not praise that’s bad, it’s praise for nothing.

    “I wonder what purpose the hats serve, since it’s obvious they’re kids. Maybe it improves visibility? Or maybe it’s to say “Yes, I AM supposed to be on the train, I’m not some lost kid.”

    Or maybe it’s a subtle reminder to the adults just to keep an eye open for them. It makes sense on a platform full of hundreds of people minding their own business to give them a visual clue that there are more vulnerable people among them who 1) need not to be stepped on and 2) might possibly need their assistance in case of a problem; it doesn’t make sense to think that people who are already out stalking children need to have the children pointed out by special headgear.

  17. Are we there yet? June 3, 2013 at 11:36 am #

    I talk a better game than I play, sadly, but I have tried to incorporate what I call “structured independence” with my kids. This just means they can/have to take on certain responsibilities by a certain age or when they demonstrate that they can. So asking their lunches for school: parents buy the supplies, they pack the lunchbox. Mom and dad buy the coat and remind the child to take it, they live with the consequences of not wearing it. If they’re hungry they’ll pack better food tomorrow. If they’re cold, they’ll wear the coat.

    Parents don’t want all that work and kids don’t want to be babied. But our judgemental society works against us by making helicoptering or infantilizing the norm.

  18. Yan Seiner June 3, 2013 at 11:37 am #

    @lihtox: The hats are there to identify the kids. Different schools may have different color hats or uniforms; that way when 500 kids all show up at the zoo for a school trip, you can easily identify classmates.

    It’s not like the US; there may be one or two teachers for 30 kids and the kids have to be able to find each other.

    Japan is incredibly crowded and on a busy school trip day it’s not unusual to have hundreds of kids from different classes and schools at the same location. Easy to lose one or two if you don’t have a good way to spot them.

    Also, they take public transportation on these trips, not school buses. The teachers have to be able to shepherd the kids on and off trains that can be very crowded with commuters. The hats help everyone (including the other commuters) identify which kids are supposed to be with which group.

  19. Are we there yet? June 3, 2013 at 11:38 am #

    Grrrrrrr. That’s “packing” their lunches. }#^%#%% you, auto-misspell…

  20. Violet June 3, 2013 at 11:45 am #

    Are we there yet: I live in Florida, where many consider that it is NEVER cold. But every time I dropped my kid off at school with no jacket in the morning when it might be, say, 60 degrees, some busy body would comment about the lack of a jacket. For the three minutes from the car to the school!!! Of course, by recess (if they got it) it would be 73 degrees, but no, if he didn’t have a jacket in the am, I was a bad mom.

  21. Myra June 3, 2013 at 11:51 am #

    I agree with the above poster that it is hard to be Free Range if no one else is doing it.

    My mother let me walk to K alone… at 4. It would have been fine if everyone did it but I was the only one and it felt lonely and isolating.

    Same with waking or riding my bike to school.

  22. Earth.W June 3, 2013 at 11:53 am #

    What a difference between cultures. The West has committed a cultural supervise of kinds.

  23. Pamela June 3, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

    I lived the free range parenting lifestyle long before discovering the book. But I almost can’t any more. In the last year I’ve had no less than five encounters with the police and CPS; for sitting in my car while my kids play in a playground, for punishing my soon by putting him on our second story porch, for letting my 6 year old walk to our (gated community) apartment office alone to pick up packages, the same walk every school child makes every day to the bus stop. CPS says the next time some busybody who sees my kids playing outside but can’t see me and calls, our “case” will be put on emergency status. Now I can’t let them do anything

  24. Allison June 3, 2013 at 12:18 pm #

    I use “pay attention” instead of “be careful” with my 4 year old. It’s more pro active and gives my daughter the control over being aware of her actions.

  25. Havva June 3, 2013 at 12:28 pm #

    I have to admit to saying “be careful” a fair amount. Even though I know I should be more precise. I guess my mother is better alternatives like saying “watch your step.”

    I heard my daughter running around her room this morning telling grandma. “I need to watch my step” a little while later… *thud* and grandma says “oops, you didn’t watch your step.” I’ll have to remember “watch your step.” I think she just learned what that means. Or at least that not doing it can hurt.

  26. pentamom June 3, 2013 at 12:36 pm #

    If you prefer another phrase other than “be careful,” great. But I can’t fathom how “pay attention ” is “more proactive.” Both follow the logical but non-specific construction of “actively exercise caution in what you’re doing.”

    As long as the child understands the connotation of the words (i.e., don’t be careless and stupid, watch what you’re doing and handle yourself appropriately) the specific phrase doesn’t seem to make a lot of difference. And the connotation will come from your child’s experience of how you generally approach things like this, not so much the precise words used. If your “be careful” means “don’t run or handle anything that Mommy hasn’t personally decontaminated and filed down, and if any adult looks at you, RUN” that’s what it will mean. But it will convey something quite different if your child knows you just mean “look out for yourself, handle things properly and don’t be careless.”

  27. wapsecret June 3, 2013 at 1:03 pm #

    I raised 2 sons who are now 23 and 26. I stayed home with them. They learned to use “real” toys when playing. Yep, sometimes they got hurt. Nobody lost any limbs. They knew the dangers of a knife while toddlers. They both would help me cook meals, cutting and chopping, stirring, etc…When they were 5 and 8 I returned to work only 4 miles from home and left them stay home along 3 out 5 days a week. The other 2 days they went to a daycare when the facility had activities to break up their boredom at home. I never in 2 years got a phone call with problems. I went home daily for lunch even though nothing prompted any reason. When we moved to a small town my kids would ride their bikes across town where out house was. We stayed in a rental while rehabilitating. Today they are young men with high intelligence, responsibilities and ambitions far beyond other young folks their age. I have been criticized many times for my unorthodox parenting but feel I have raised wiser adults for it.

  28. Warren June 3, 2013 at 1:07 pm #

    The whole be careful thing, is aimed at the over use of it. Everytime you say “be careful”, in whatever form, and you get that look from your kid, or they actually reply with the exasperated “I know”, those are the ones you need to stop. Because you are telling them that you don’t trust them to know whatever it is they need to know.
    Learned that lesson when my oldest was around 8, and told me if she heard look both ways one more time she would puke.
    Praise is great, but overused as well. At some point you need to realize that not everything in the world is praise worthy. One of the jobs our kids have is taking the dogs out after school. A job, expected, not praise worthy. Now on mornings I have slept in, because of work, and they take it upon themselves to look after the dogs, yes they get appreciation, and a pat on the back.
    If you praise them for every little thing, they come to expect it. Real life does not work that way, and they soon start experiencing disappointment.

  29. pentamom June 3, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    “Because you are telling them that you don’t trust them to know whatever it is they need to know.”

    Eh, this must be a male-female thing, or something, because I have this same thing with my husband. He says that whenever I remind him of something I should know that he already knows, it makes him feel like I think he’s stupid or don’t trust his judgment, when in reality, I know that I sometimes forget or overlook things, so I figure other people sometimes do too, and might need a reminder. It’s not a matter of trust or thinking the other person is stupid/helpless, just a belief that everyone is fallible and can use a hand remembering things sometimes.

    Because he doesn’t like it and perceives it as insulting I try not to do it, but when I slip up, it’s not because I think he is dumb, just that I’m aware that people aren’t perfect.

    So I try not to do it too much with my kids, either, but I think the perception that the person saying it thinks the other person is incompetent is in the ear of the hearer, it’s not necessarily reality.

  30. pentamom June 3, 2013 at 1:34 pm #

    IOW, I don’t assume that husband/kids will mess up unless I tell them to, I assume that there’s a small chance that they could because they are not perfect, and it doesn’t cost me or them anything to say, “Hey, watch out.” Except that for some people, it does cost something in terms of hurt feelings, so then it’s counter-productive.

  31. Kay June 3, 2013 at 2:04 pm #

    I’ve seen comments that often say people say that the U.S. has too many sexual predators, etc. compared to other countries.

  32. Kay June 3, 2013 at 2:05 pm #

    Sorry, nix “people say”

  33. R June 3, 2013 at 2:31 pm #

    The only response I have to this is – what if you let your 5 year old ride their bike around the neighborhood and they never came back?

    Personally, I could never forgive myself. So, perhaps I’m an overbearing parent – I don’t believe that I am – I do encourage self-sufficiency in my child, but until I feel comfortable that they would know what to do in the event of an emergency, or until I’ve been in a neighborhood long enough to feel that I comfortably know the people, there is no way in hell I would ever do that.

    I remember doing things like that as a child – probably not that young though, and I’m fine with my child doing that as well, but all in due time.

  34. Kate June 3, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

    I would love to let my kid roam around the neighborhood the way I used to. I’m not afraid of injury or abduction.

    The trouble is, in my (semi-urban) neighborhood, the drivers won’t stop for a dog in the street. They have literally hit and killed one that was sitting in the middle — they could see it from several blocks away, and just decided to keep on going.

    They won’t stop for a person, either — I’ve been almost hit more times than I can count, walking with my 5 year old. Recently, a 5 year old and his parent got hit by a car on my corner, and they both went to the hospital.

    I’ve been “gently tapped” by people’s bumpers as they screech to halt — while I was crossing with the walk sign. I’m short, but I’m not *that* short. Our adjacent big city (Chicago) is one of the most pedestrian and biker unfriendly areas in the country.

    So yeah, while I’d be the first to roll my eyes at most “worst first” scenarios, I consider this to be an honest danger in my neighborhood. *I* am afraid to ride my bike because so many of my friends have been doored or hit. If drivers aren’t watching out for adults biking, they aren’t watching out for kids crossing the street, either.

  35. EricS June 3, 2013 at 2:53 pm #

    To Christine Gross, the most ironic thing is the mentality of American parents (North American parents) today only started about 15-20 years ago. Prior to that for decades, hundreds, even thousands of years, children grew up much like they did as you saw them in Japan when you were there. Basic guidance from parents, and pretty much on their own. Much like we did in the 80’s, 70’s, 60’s etc… Trial and error. While the whole community was our “extended family” watching out for us when our parents weren’t around. Including getting disciplined.

    It’s because of the sudden shift in technology and information distribution. As technology progressed, people’s mental state progressed (or rather digressed). Instead of figuring things out for themselves by using logic and common sense. They started to rely more and more on what was told to them via online. And as more and more people realized how internet and technology can make them money, more and more “experts” have come out of the woodwork. By then, fear and distrust had become common place because of misinformation. Yet, for many, this was a perfect scenario to exploit. Child safety, Weight Loss, and Health are some of the biggest industry today. So when you put the fear into people, the more money you will make from what you are selling them. People have been conditioned to have this mentality.

  36. pentamom June 3, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

    R, what if you put your child in your car, drove out on the highway, and got mowed down by a semi?

    That could happen, too, and assuming you were being a generally responsible parent, would be no more your fault and hence no more requiring “forgiving” yourself, than if the very unusual event of being snatched off the street by an evil person, happened to your child.

    No one ever says, “If I drove somewhere and my kid were killed by a drunk driver, I would never forgive myself,” because we all know that driving somewhere is a reasonable decision and other people’s crime is not our fault. This really is no different.

  37. Angela June 3, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

    I allowed my eldest two, at 10 and 11, to babysit their little sister one summer while I worked not a 10 minute drive away. We lived two houses away from a park and one day the girls went to the park while their brother stayed home. The little one hit her head and, going to her to make sure she was OK, the elder stepped on a piece of glass. She went to the water utility building, which was located at the park and open, and asked the women there to call me at work.

    When I got that call, all the women did was lambaste me about leaving a 10 year old to babysit. My first thought was, “Can I get off the phone so I can come and tend to my injured daughter?” The second was, “Wait a minute. She was smart enough to know she needed help, get help from adults, was able to give them the information they needed to get a hold of me, (At home, she could have called me herself) and she’s still not mature enough to babysit?”

  38. Warren June 3, 2013 at 3:13 pm #

    That is what I was getting at. Doesn’t matter what your intentions are, it is how our kids interpret them. Telling them to be careful to us may be with the best of intentions, but if they see it as you don’t have faith in them, then that is how it is.

    I replaced all the automatic phrases, like be careful, look both ways and the like, with “oh nevermind, you know what you’re doing.” This let them know that my parental instincts were still active, but I realize they do know what they are doing.

    Then they became teens, and would run in, grab a bite to eat, and mumble something on their way out again. As long as I didn’t hear any key words like guns, knives, sex, booze or drugs, they were good to go.

  39. 20percenrcooler June 3, 2013 at 3:16 pm #

    R, your comment is the type of “worst first thinking” that this site tries to avoid. IF there was an emergency….but there probably won’t be.
    I do, however, agree with wanting him to know about what to do. Instead of keeping him under constant supervision, why not teach him the basics? Walk around the neighborhood a couple of times with him so he knows the way home. Get to know some of the neighbors so, in the EXTREMELY unlikely event of an emergency, he can flag them down for help. If you live near busy streets, teach him to stay on the sidewalk and look both ways before he crosses. And, of course, don’t forget helmets.

    Five year olds are smarter than most people give credit for. If you do something as simple as letting him ride,
    1.) You’ll have more free time since you won’t be supervising all the time,
    2.) He’ll learn to have more freedom and learn how to do things for himself
    3.) You’ll be on your first step to raising a confident, competent (free-range!) young man
    Good luck!

  40. Andrew June 3, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

    “Why American Kids Will Not Rule The World” That title alone is why I let my kids free range. I’ve been told many time that I’m not raising my kids right. they are correct, I’m not raising kids, I’m raising adults. The next statement is ,”how do you expect them to compete with their peers?” My response, “I’m preparing them to compete with Asian and Indian kids. If they can compete with them, competing with American kids should be no problem.

  41. Warren June 3, 2013 at 3:52 pm #

    Had a mom at my kids school ask me the same thing, told her “I don’t expect them to compete with your kids. I expect your kids to try like hell to keep up to mine.”

  42. anonymous this time June 3, 2013 at 3:55 pm #

    Pentamom, I love this: “No one ever says, ‘If I drove somewhere and my kid were killed by a drunk driver, I would never forgive myself,’ because we all know that driving somewhere is a reasonable decision and other people’s crime is not our fault. This really is no different.”

    Amen, amen, and amen.

    When I wanted to allow my grade-two son to walk to school, and he did it competently, Dad (my ex) stepped in and forbade it, his fear of abduction getting the better of him, saying, “If anything ever happened to that kid, I could never live with myself.” Wish I could have come right back and said, “So I guess you’re far more willing to accept his being injured or killed in a car accident, since that’s statistically far more likely?”

    Why, oh why is it so much different for people who fear the boogeyman? They really do imagine this is an actual, daily threat to their children, instead of a vanishingly small possibility. Why was it so easy for me to ignore the message that kids are only “safe” when “supervised”? I always thought there was something WRONG with me, like I had a neural synapse missing or something.

    Guess it’s just that I see my kids as extremely capable beings. It’s so telling that the parents of kids with neurological “issues” fight hard for their kids to push their edges and gain as much competence as possible, while the “neuro-normal” kids are babied to the point of ennui and atrophy. What it tells me is that parents have lost touch with their authentic truth, their higher wisdom of knowing what their kids need to thrive, in favour of blending in with prevailing attitudes that are completely delusional and profit-driven.

  43. Sharon June 3, 2013 at 4:00 pm #

    I decided to throw a party for four fifth grade girls. I said to them have fun, obey the pool rules, and come to me if you are hurt or have an arguement you can’t solve.

    The girls exceeded my expections, they invited the younger kids to play, they stayed out of the way of the lap swimmers, asked politely for one of the lifeguards to clean a small section of the pool, and had most important had fun as they enjoy their last two weeks of elementary school.

    Best of all for me one of the other mothers wants to throw and party in June and I don’t even have to drive.

  44. Andrew June 3, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

    Good one. I’ll have to borrow that the next time.

  45. Crystal June 3, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

    I have a question for you UK readers — is the culture there naturally more free-range? If so, that will definitely be one thing I will look forward to when we move there this fall!

  46. lollipoplover June 3, 2013 at 4:52 pm #

    My 12yo told me he walked to a restaurant for dinner on Friday with his friends (after playing baseball for 3 hours straight)….and the only reason the mom allowed her boys to walk there (it was across a highway in a very busy shopping center) was because she thought my son was very responsible and would keep her boys in line. I was surprised because I am very free range but this was something I didn’t allow him to do yet…and he loved it! I think positive parenting is contagious and I totally agree that our children are MUCH more capable than we think they are.

  47. jeffb June 3, 2013 at 5:14 pm #

    I find it interesting how many people have commented on the “good job” and “be careful”, defending it. As an employer, all I can say is thank goodness for immigration and farm kids otherwise it would be impossible to fill the jobs that we used to do in high-school and University. The main reason is all the false praise that kids get now. They want a lollipop when they show up on time or complete a task. Instilling confidence is important but creating delusions of grandeur is detrimental.

  48. Sally Coulter June 3, 2013 at 5:27 pm #

    I’ve read a lot of comments here claiming that constantly praising your child will give them confidence and high self-esteem. The tide is turning on this attitude, with more child development researchers noting that there are long-range self-esteem problems when children rely on extrinsic motivation (“Good job!”) as feedback on a performance, rather that on intrinsic motivation (their desire to do something well because it makes them feel good, with no praise needed from adults).

    Here’s some interesting reading if you want to learn more:

  49. Sally Coulter June 3, 2013 at 5:37 pm #

    @ jeffb, I could not agree more. When children expect praise or reward for doing the most bare minimum (“Good walking!”, “Good standing!”, “Good eating!”) it artificially inflates their confidence to an abnormal degree. This is NOT true confidence and self-esteem, which comes from truly knowing that you’re competent at something, and being satisfied from within. Instead, it’s a soap bubble of false confidence, easily broken, and entirely reliant upon adult praise and feedback. When the adult praise is not there, so goes the confidence.

    If you want to make children feel good, you can give them feedback like, “Wow, you climbed all those stairs by yourself!” instead of “Good Climbing!”. The former gives the child qualitative feedback about their performance: there were many stairs and you climbed them all. The latter gives the child nothing but blanket, vague praise. Better yet, you can say nothing at all and save your praise for when your child really tries hard and excels at something. Isn’t that the best time for praise, rather than when a child does basic everyday tasks?

    There is definitely such as thing as too much praise, and it can swing too far in the opposite direction and actually erode children’s confidence in the long run, or give them an over-inflated belief in their own competence. How does this help a young person who is entering the job market?

  50. catherine June 3, 2013 at 5:39 pm #

    Agreed wholeheartedly with this article. And feel nauseated by the cloying overprotectiveness of many parents I see around my neighborhood and in my community. I am the mother of three boys, aged 15, 11, and 8. They are all strong, competent, intelligent individuals, well able to handle themselves in the world, capable of taking initiative when on their own and when put in difficult situations in ways that the majority of kids today cannot. But they are constantly observed with suspicion by adults around them – they are too independent when compared to others their age, and I am often subtly accused by the overprotective (s)mothering administrators of being a neglectful parent. (sigh.) The pressure to conform to the helicopter parental pattern is strong – yet I am confident that my children will have more self-respect and a greater ability to function when they are on their own than the majority of their agemates.

    There has to be a way to combat this ridiculous infantilization being perpetuated on an entire generation of children. There has to.

  51. Jackie June 3, 2013 at 5:54 pm #

    For all of you parents here-please keep up the good fight. I am a high school teacher and I am amazed at some of the questions 16 year olds will ask me, such as: What page is the section on right triangles on? or, “Somone took my calculator number”. Well, why should I tell you the page when you have a perfectly good table of contents in your book, or an index? If someone grabbed your calculator by mistake, why don’t you take the initiative to find it yourself? And these are just the small things. The more free range parenting that is done, and the less false praise and hand holding, the easier my job and the job of many teachers, parents, and caregivers will be.

  52. Jenna K. June 3, 2013 at 6:06 pm #

    It’s really sad how far we’ve come. When I was twelve years old, my family got a membership to the local neighborhood pool. Under the pool’s rules, when you were eight years old, you could get a swim pass and come on your own without your parents. You had to pass the swim test to make sure you were safe in the water. For that, you had to swim a certain amount of laps freestyle (I think it was three or four), tread water in the deep end for one minute, and retrieve something off the deep end floor. When I was visiting my brother a few summers ago who lived near that old neighborhood pool, I asked him about whether he would be joining it. He said that he didn’t feel it was worth it because their kids couldn’t go on their own until they were twelve now. Since none of his kids were that old, it would have meant that one of the parents would have had to go with them every time. I remember spending all day in the summers at that pool–my brothers and I would head over as soon as it opened at 10 am and stay until lunch, go home for a quick lunch, then head back and stay until dinner. Sometimes my mom would bring my baby brother in the afternoons with her and join us but most of the time she didn’t. Even then, she hardly ever got in the water. She put floaties (water wings) on my brother and let him play in the kiddie pool and with us in the shallow end of the big pool. My baby brother was full on swimming by himself by the time he was two years old.

    My point is that we are way too safety conscious. Those summer days at that pool were some of the best memories of my childhood that I have. I hear certain songs on the radio and it takes me back to the pool (there was always music playing there). Ah, those were good times. Good times. I wish my kids could do that. Instead, I take them to the pool every day in the summer. But since I love to swim with them, it’s not that big of a deal (except this year when I have a new baby). I wish I could let them ride their bikes to the pool and swim–they’d all pass a similar swim test.

  53. Kelly D. June 3, 2013 at 6:09 pm #

    I got yelled at (again) today for letting my toddler roam about 50m away in a fenced-in park while I watched her extremely accident-prone twin brother. I could see her climbing the steps and going down the slide, which she has been able to do since she learned how to crawl. I was close to the only exit, and as I mentioned, the entire park is fenced in, with double fences at the exit and bathrooms. Another parent decided this was not okay and said, “Aren’t you going to go over there and help her?” I just turned around and said, “Help her what? She’s doing fine on her own and I’m watching my son.” Just to help me prove my point, he face-planted in the sandbox and needed help cleaning out his mouth while she happily slid down the biggest slide in the park, screeching with joy for all to hear, for the fifth time…on her own.

  54. hineata June 3, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

    The yellow hats are gorgeous, and from the article it appears that all Japanese first-graders wear them. This is a little like Malaysia, where all children wear the same school uniform – the only differences are for religion, so the Malays(girls) wear long skirts and the boys something like a fez on their heads, while the rest wear more Western-style gyms and shorts. Anyway I wonder if the symbol on the hat denotes the school they attend? Malaysian kids have school emblems on their pockets. I used to marvel at the teachers taking kids on trips (not that it happened often where we were) wondering how they could tell their class, but I suspect that the ‘naughty’ kids, if there were any, would simply have been left behind at school. There doesn’t seem to be the same sense of entitlement to privileges in Asia as I sometimes see even in New Zealand (where brats also get left out of school trips) – if you misbehave, you understand that you don’t get to have fun. Some parents here complain if little Johnny, who’s been an absolute #%*@ all year, gets left out at school camp time. Consequences, anyone? (Sorry, off topic, but it annoys me, LOL!)

  55. are we there yet? June 3, 2013 at 6:57 pm #

    “It’s so telling that the parents of kids with neurological “issues” fight hard for their kids to push their edges and gain as much competence as possible, while the “neuro-normal” kids are babied to the point of ennui and atrophy.”

    Nailed it…

  56. hineata June 3, 2013 at 7:01 pm #

    As for the suitability of young people for jobs these days, though, aren’t we possibly engaging in a little revisionist history? I remember my dad (foreman on a cable-jointing gang at the time) coming home night after night in the mid-seventies complaining about his ‘boys’ and how useless they all were these days. By the same token his father, who’d started an apprenticeship as a blacksmith in the late 1890’s, was convinced my dad ( a teddy boy and rock’n’roll piano player in the late fifties) would never amount to anything (he wound up a senior manager in the Telco). No doubt my grandfather’s father would have had a lot to say about his son, but the poor old bugger got himself killed while crossing a wire fence during a lightening storm at the turn of the century, so never got the chance.

    All I’m saying is, we all think the younger generation is going to hell in a handbasket, but are they? My 16 year old, who has always been what we here would term free-range, but who is still the nervous type, is also a lazy ratbag at times who doesn’t show much initiative at all at home, and yet, when it comes to paid work, can run a doughnut cart alone for hours, cooking, cleaning it from top to bottom, and sometimes working as team supervisor at bigger events.

    I think this generation will survive, like all other generations before them. If it takes a bit longer to get them off the starting block because of our poor parenting practices, well, I still think they’ll make it. Even babied American kids.

  57. Papilio June 3, 2013 at 7:02 pm #

    Did you read that report on child injury rates as well? (I just wanted to know how my country is doing and ended up reading the whole thing.) They also mentioned over-protection as one of the reasons for low rates in some countries:
    “But it may be that, in addition to the numbers of child deaths and injuries discussed in this report, a hidden price is also being paid by far larger numbers of children in the industrialized world whose lives and childhoods are being newly circumscribed by unprecedented levels of parental concern.”
    Does that sound familiar?

  58. Cassie June 3, 2013 at 7:38 pm #

    At backyard party last week I got to see why free-range is vital. I can’t tell you any stories about my 3yo, I barely saw her all afternoon but my 1.5yo hovered pretty close.

    To get to the backyard swings my 1yo had to climb a temporary step set up to help kids over a rock wall. She got to the top of the wall and then stood up. Now she had to get down the other side. She squatted down and over-balanced, landing in my ready arms. (Actually not so ready, I was holding to cups of water and we both got wet, but she didn’t smash her head on the cement). I dusted her off, put her on the ground and she tried again. With the same result. She toppled off, but I didn’t let her hit the ground.

    Both times it was tempting to reach a hand out and help her over the top. But she had so much to learn. She had to learn her own technique for climbing that wall. She had to learn what things make her fall. I never helped her, but I caught her when she fell.

    Third time was a charm. She realised standing up wasn’t working and crawled over the top. Bravo.

    Off she went to the slide where parents hovered around the swing set perplexed as I stood back. Is she okay they asked as she climbed the slide. Perfectly fine I answered. And as I stood way back I noticed a girl called Bethany step in and help my 1.5yo. The little girl was 8 or 9 years old and looks after my daughter. Brilliant. I went back to adult company. Shaking my head at why a backyard BBQ had parents hovering over every piece of kids equipment. Parents at the swings. Parents at the trampoline. Parents at the tree swing. When did this happen?

  59. Stephanie June 3, 2013 at 7:53 pm #

    When it comes to praise, I like the advice I was given to not say “good job.” Instead, say something more specific. It’s more helpful.

  60. hineata June 3, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

    @Cassie – are you sure it’s not like the 80’s song ‘You’ll always find me in the kitchen at parties?’, LOL! My husband had a tendency to hover near the kids at such things if he was feeling shy or out of place, which was all the time if the party was at a Pakeha’s (European’s) place – he has a strong accent when speaking English and still feels shy about it….Interestingly the kids could probably have driven tractors or taken part in knife fights at our Chinese friends’ homes, and you wouldn’t see hide nor hair of him – he didn’t feel shy there, for obvious reasons, and the only time he showed interest in the kids was when one of them was actually bleeding :-).

    Seriously, I am sure a lot of your friends/acquaintances were hovering, but some others were probably socially awkward…..

  61. hineata June 3, 2013 at 8:13 pm #

    P.S. good on you and your daughter! Am sure I probably would have helped my oldest, so he wouldn’t have learnt so fast….the baby, no chance, she used to sneak off and do things herself, hence her various minor head injuries. She did learn fairly speedily though, but we were just lucky at various times she didn’t actually kill herself.

  62. pentamom June 3, 2013 at 9:02 pm #

    I can see how over-protecting kids and coddling them, not allowing them to do hard things or holding them responsible for getting things done, would lead to their reduced ability to be effective and diligent workers at whatever they do.

    I can’t really see how reminding them to be careful in what they do, leads to this. I think that’s a bit of wanting to make everything you don’t like the reasons for other things you don’t like.

  63. Donald June 3, 2013 at 9:22 pm #

    Frk is showing the world that kids are losing out on freedom. More important than that, Lenore is uncovering a gross neglect of education!

  64. Donald June 3, 2013 at 9:30 pm #

    …….I also see no reason not to praise kids. Indeed, if you praise them, it helps instill confidence. If you tell them that they’re smart, creative, work hard, strong, funny, etc, they believe it……..

    Many parents overdo this. The result is that it strengthens fear of failure. Why should these children continue to try? They get showered with praise all the time. Why risk losing that praise by trying something and failing?

  65. Michael June 3, 2013 at 9:33 pm #

    One thing recently struck me when it comes to overprotecting kids and such. When I was young I would be encouraged by my parents to give up a seat for adults in a crowded bus especially, but not only, for elderly people. Nowadays, when I am on a rather full bus with my 9yo there are people getting up for her. I have gotten strange looks and sometimes even comments about the need for my daughter to sit in a moving bus when she doesn’t take the seat. I guess being able to safely stand in a bus is beyond the present generation of coddled kids.

  66. Donald June 3, 2013 at 9:43 pm #

    I love the movie Parenthood staring Steve Martin. In it he has a nightmare of his child going seriously off the rails. His son is on the rooftop with a gun. The police have him surrounded and give Steve Martin a bull horn to try to talk his son into giving himself up.

    While Steve is trying to talk to his son, the child shoots the bull horn. Steve then praises him. “Nice shot son!”

  67. Lori June 3, 2013 at 10:24 pm #

    Bravo on another great article. I absolutely love the encouragement I get whenever I read these kinds of articles. I raised my first set of 5 children to adulthood with the free range mindset and every single one of them are hardworking, responsible, kind and successful adults. They are now 24, 26, 30,31 and 32 and yes when they were growing up they made mistakes, got stitches, broke some bones and got cuts and bruises but they not only survived they learned how to be responsible by working hard and earning their own money and how to handle themselves with other kids, adults and people in general and most of al they had a lot of fun in the process. Raising them in this way wasn’t much different than others in our small rural farming community so I wasn’t a lone duck in the water. Now we have 2 little’s whom are 6 1/2 and 8. Things are different now days with helicopter parents and parents that are taught to parent in fear, to not say “no”, to over protect and hover and to be the entertainer of their children instead of their guide. Still, we are raising them the free range way as much as we can without getting into trouble with CPS or the police. Our 8 year old has been mowing lawns for 2 years and does a good job at it. Last year he got his first mowing job besides doing ours. This year he is doing 3 more mowing jobs for pay and is looking to do some jobs as acts of kindness. Yes we will play games with them on occasion but for the most part we don’t entertain them and in all honesty they keep themselves so busy we don’t usually hear, “I am bored.” But I do have to say that I do hear negative comments and get questioned on why I don’t worry about them going off alone and while I don’t worry about our little’s I do worry about other people and their calling CPS on us. Over protective hovering parents are very judgmental of those of us that aren’t and it does concern me of the trouble they can cause.

  68. Kelly June 3, 2013 at 10:54 pm #

    I have long been a fan of this site and read Lenore’s book and while I’m an adult, this story reminds me of a dilemma I’m dealing with- I live two miles from work and would love to walk. It’s sidewalked the whole way- really easy- but I drive every day b/c I have to go through a sketchy area with a drug problem and high unemployment. I could be a target for robbery (I get panhandled a lot when I go to the store or get gas) or something worse- at least that’s what others tell me. I always think of free-range kids and ask myself if I’m being ridiculous. I’m an adult, not a kid. Of course I can walk. Do I listen to others or are they just paranoid like most parents these days? It’s so hard to tell!! I tried looking up the crime statistics and of course there’s more than the suburbs. So to relate this to the Japan story, let’s not forget that there is such a thing as a bad area (right??), but it can be hard to judge.

  69. Colleen June 3, 2013 at 11:27 pm #

    Sorry folks, but I live in a rural area and there have been 2 separate incidents of children being abducted/approached while riding bikes alone and 2 teenage girls murdered on their way to school. My boys aren’t allowed to ride bikes without an adult along.

  70. This girl loves to talk June 3, 2013 at 11:35 pm #

    I read both articles and I think its important to take the best of cultures but also realize each have their downside. Several positives were mentioned from Korean and Japanese and Chinese cultures. As a international homestay family for 8 plus years nearly all our students say they prefer the ‘lifestyle’ of Australia (ie less education/work stress and more ok with rest and recreation and enjoying living) But I agree with all the positives mentioned from differing countries and try to incorporate them into our life with four kids.

    I do have to get better at the be careful thing. I say it wayyyyy too much. Honestly its true. A the kids don’t really listen when you say it. B you will probably undermine what they are capable of. You’re just wasting your breath 🙂

  71. carriem June 4, 2013 at 12:49 am #

    I think the purpose of the hats is to let people know these kids are new at navigating the transit system. I have a couple shorties that are really babied sometimes (even for here) because people don’t know how old they really are. Yellow hat=might need help. No hat=probably an old hand.

  72. Katie June 4, 2013 at 7:01 am #

    Instead of so much praise, we can save the praise for the unusally good, and objectively respond to other things with “yes” or “correct” or “sounds right”.

  73. Natalie June 4, 2013 at 7:57 am #

    Hi Kelly, use your own judgement, don’t ask people here as you know your neighborhood better than they do. Some people on this site live in la-la land. Take a look at the blogs involving carseats, that’s where it’s most apparent.

    While I was in grad school and had frequent trips to the lab after midnight. (ah, grad school, so glad I’m done with that!) It was less than a 10 minute walk from door to door and I drove. Why? Because there were 3 incidents of assault and robbery at night on one of the streets that I had to cross during the time I was there.

    During the day it was fine as there were lots of students and cars on the road. But night? No thanks.

    Being free- range is one thing, being stupid is another.

  74. TaraK June 4, 2013 at 9:04 am #

    Kelly, I will tell you the same thing I tell other moms trying to free range their kids. Know your kid (or yourself), know your neighborhood. If you live in a particularly crime ridden neighborhood I would be more hesitant, too.

  75. SKL June 4, 2013 at 9:18 am #

    Yesterday I shocked parents and kids alike: I refused to interfere in a fuss between two 7-year-olds at their class picnic. (I was there to drive, not chaperone.) I wasn’t really paying attention – the teacher had told the kids to line up, and they were doing it in the way you’d expect first-graders at a park to do. Right in front of me, a large boy looked at me and hollered, “he just smacked me in the face!” (Of course nobody was really *hurt.*) Never one to micromanage my own kids, let alone someone else’s, I responded, “I’m not a principal, nor a teacher.” It was my automatic response, not thinking about the fact that several “room mothers” as well as all the kids were hearing me. LOL. If I had it to do over, I would have said something like “work it out.”

    (Note: I mention that the “victim” was a “big” kid because somebody out there will get concerned about bullying. One could argue that it’s bullying to keep getting peers in trouble for being the other side of normal kid arguments, but that’s a discussion for a different day.)

  76. SKL June 4, 2013 at 9:33 am #

    Regarding praise, I read a book that suggested something that sits a bit better with me. Avoid empty “good job” comments, but when encouragement is appropriate, use objective, truly meaningful language. For example, “that was helpful.” “You finished quickly; now there is extra time to ___.” “Doesn’t it feel nice to be in a room that is neat?” “That was kind/thoughtful.” (But only if it’s true.) The other day I whispered to my usually shy, reluctant girl “I was proud of you for volunteering to go first” (in the solo part of their very amateur hiphop show). It was good for her to hear that, because she wasn’t sure if she had made a fool of herself.

    I think it’s also important for kids to hear other children being genuinely praised. My eldest sometimes has an issue with hearing me compliment others’ talents. She says, “that’s not nice.” I gave her a long lecture about that last night. She didn’t know that others often compliment her in the area where parents are watching the kids. There’s nothing unhealthy about a genuine compliment; in fact, it’s better if everyone gets one once in a while, since we all have talents and need encouragement at times. The problem comes when the compliment is without real substance.

  77. SKL June 4, 2013 at 9:45 am #

    As to “be careful,” the problem comes when the parent focuses on the bad stuff that could happen instead of the positive choice to be responsible. Given a moment to think about it, there is usually a positive twist to a “don’t fall” type of warning. Not always, though. Sometimes I do this well, and other times I don’t. Often I say something like, “be careful / use your brains, because if you [insert mistake], you’ll [insert bad consequence].” I can remember my dad saying, “stay away from the edge, because it’s a looong way down.” 😉

    If I’m sending my kids out to do something that could have dangerous parts, I remind them of what specifically they should do, not a blanket “be careful.” For example, “watch for cars; stay on the sidewalk; watch where you’re going.” I often say “watch out for your sister” as well, as I usually send my girls together.

  78. SKL June 4, 2013 at 9:49 am #

    Though it may be that my “watch where you are going” is an empty statement around here, for all the good it does. 😉

  79. nina June 4, 2013 at 11:36 am #

    kate, I completely agree with you that negligent drivers pose much more denger to free range children (or even adults) then kidnappers. We live in a suburban neighborhood where very few people walk or ride their bikes. We let our 10 and 12 yo boys bike to the library or go to public tennis courts which requires them to cross several semi busy intersections. The other day my 10 yo complained to me that he had to miss a couple of WALK signals because cars kept making right turns and would not let him cross. My 12 yo’s best friend lives about 2 miles away and when I mentioned to his mother that I’m going to let my son bike to their place she strongly recommend that he should ride a round about way through residential neighborhoods to avoid a certain intersection where she got hit by a car when she tried crossing at a WALK signal while being pregnant with one of her children. She got more scared then hurt, but she backed my own observation that cars don’t watch out for pedestrians in most suburban neighborhoods. And the drivers are hardly to blame. There are just too few people on the streets for drivers to learn to scan for them routinely.

  80. Laura June 4, 2013 at 11:46 am #

    I highly recommend Alfie Kohn’s “Punished by Rewards” as well as Po Bronson’s “How Not to Talk to Your Kids:
    The inverse power of praise” (http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/). There has been ample evidence for years that empty praise actually undermines intrinsic motivation and does a great deal of harm. As for the self-esteem myth? It’s just that – it was never founded on actual evidence and many of its early proponents have rapidly backpedaled. Google “self-esteem myth” and see what comes up!

    Also, I find “be careful” pretty condescending… it assumes that children will be reckless unless otherwise told not to be by an adult! If you give children relevant skills to complete a task safely, that will help them. If you give them specific pointers about safety in a certain situation, that will also help them. “Be careful” doesn’t do either – it sends the message that you don’t have confidence in them.

  81. Pamela Martin June 4, 2013 at 12:05 pm #

    Nicely done article; thanks for posting!

  82. Natalie June 4, 2013 at 12:29 pm #

    Thanks Laura, that’s a really good link, and I will do some googling on that topic. Much better than commenters relying on what they wish was true. If someone has actually studied this its worth considering.

    I think it comes from seeing that kids who are criticized and yelled at all the time develop low self esteem. So people think the opposite must be true. I don’t give praise for silly things, but I give it for a job well done, or an obstacle conquered, or something incredibly insightful that’s been said. And although i haven’t read this specific article before, I have read something similar, which is why i i praise hard work and effort too, as I mentioned in my earlier post.

    Maybe in the long term (20 yrs from now) this isn’t such a good idea. But the short term effects seem to be good. My daughter does work at things which don’t come easily and the payoff not immediate, and is absolutely thrilled when her efforts finally do pay off. Am I damaging her in ghe long term by giving her a thumbs up when she turns around with a smile from ear to ear, wanting to share her success? Perhaps it’s worth restraining some praise, but I’d like to read up on this more because saying “good effort, you worked hard” is still praise.

    An additional use of praise which isnt mentioned Is the effect that positive reinforcement has on behavior. Do those authors cover that topic as well? It’s interesting to explore and I’m glad you’ve mentioned this.

    Still not convinced about the “be careful” thing and how damaging that is.

  83. librarian June 4, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

    Have you seen this story from Canada?!…forget “ruling the world” …that’s teaching the kids NOT to protect others!

    “…I asked: ‘In the time it would have taken him to go get a teacher, could that kid’s throat have been slit?’ She said yes, but that’s beside the point. That we ‘don’t condone heroics in this school.’ ”

    Fortunately, there are still many normal people who reacted appropriately to this outrage:

  84. John June 4, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    This story is so spot-on and I’ve been saying this for the past 15 years! American society is turning our kids into a bunch of helpless creampuffs! EVERYTHING nowadays is considered child abuse here in America. If I were to make my 10-year-old son (if I had one) bundle up and walk 1 mile to school in sub freezing weather, SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE would be crying “child abuse” and then I’d get a visit from CPS. Even though we walked long distances to school in very cold weather when we were kids and not to mention it being very healthy for the kid. But heaven forbid, making kids engage in healthy physical activities just might inflict some discomfort in their tender little bodies and therefore, that would be child abuse……only in America!

  85. John June 4, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

    The Philippines get my vote as the # 1 free range kid society. Boys as young as 9 and 10 are on the street barefoot on the hot pavement washing car windows to earn a little extra cash for their families. And these boys have the most rugged looking feet and calf muscles you’d ever see on a kid! OK it’s a poor society but that’s not the point. The point is, these kids are out there on their own and strengthening their tender little bodies in the process and NOT getting hurt by it.

    My Filipino friend, Donald and his wife and little daughter, lives across the street from an elementary school just outside of Manila. So Donald mentored many of the young boys who go to that school and got them involved in mixed martial arts fighting. He even bought gloves for them. So every day after school, Donald would train the boys in mma skills and would referee competitive fighting between the boys, on the school grounds. It was well supervised and none of the boys were injured and many of them became skilled little scrappers as a result of it! It did a lot for their confidence and the parents and the school LOVED Donald for it!

    Can you imagine if he did this kind of thing in the United States! OMG, he would be reported to the police and would go to jail for it, probably for many years! The kids involved would then be thrown into counseling for being so “traumatized” by being “forced” to fight and all of the anti-bully pundits would be crying for Donald’s head on a platter! The story would be on the front page of Fox News as well as CNN and basically would be blown waaaaay out of proportion. It would paint Donald as a “child abusing” villain when in actuality, he did a lot to boost the self-esteem of those kids.

    Like I’ve always said, America is becoming obsessed with the OVERprotection of its youth and I don’t believe that’s helping the youth.

  86. Shannon Parker June 4, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

    I was a preschool teacher. I left because we were coached to coddle the children, from infancy. 3-4 year olds should be allowed to play, even in the dirt.

  87. Jess June 4, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

    Growing up I was “free range”. I’m 28 years old now. Growing up my parents didn’t know where or what I was doing. I was home alone getting myself ready for school in kindergarten and then walking to school. Then coming home….alone and getting something to eat. Sounds great right ? I was sexually abused by people around the neighborhood. Older kids. While walking to school I would use the cross walk. But still got bumped by cars turning that didn’t see me. Parents never knew till a few years ago…..so before you let your kids “free Range” make sure you educate them.

  88. Joanne June 4, 2013 at 3:50 pm #

    Jess, there’s a difference between free range and neglect. What you’re describing isn’t free range.

  89. Warren June 4, 2013 at 5:18 pm #

    Thanks for beating me to it Joanne.

    Jess, free range and the neglect you experienced are nowhere near the same.

  90. SusanOR June 4, 2013 at 7:25 pm #

    Nina – perhaps you & your 10 year old could brainstorm contacting the local police force about how to improve enforcement of the crosswalk. Help him be part of a solution! Our city (which, admittedly, goes overboard on priding itself about being walkable & liveable) does perform crosswalk tests with “undercover” pedestrians crossing & police available down the road to write citations. Must say, however, that we have a law to enforce – our state & city statutes specify that you MUST stop for any pedestrian who has entered a marked or unmarked crosswalk.

    I also had to laugh when I realized that my daughter (age 6.5) now knows that when she says “What if….XYZ” my response is “I don’t live in what-if land.” She’s started to catch herself when she says what-if!

  91. John June 4, 2013 at 11:46 pm #

    Jesse, I’m sorry you were neglected so flagrantly by your parents but Lenore has always stressed that EDUCATING your kids is a huge part of the free range movement and then trusting that they will utilize what you taught them when encountering awkward moments such as a stranger or even somebody they know attempting to entice them. Or how to interact with adults when spoken to and how to use the bus or subway system. But you are certainly right, educating children is the key in turning them into free range kids.

  92. NicoleK June 5, 2013 at 7:17 am #

    I don’t get the hats thing… I don’t get what they’re supposed to do to protect kids (are they glow in the dark?)… I don’t get how they make kids a target.

    I mean, if you see a kid walking around, you know it’s a kid whether or not they’re wearing a hat, right? And will respond to help or hurt accordingly?

  93. Sean Eckenrod June 5, 2013 at 8:03 am #

    “It’s obvious we’re experiencing an erosion of trust”

    This is so true. We used to assume other would help out and that MOST people were good. Now it seems people believe there is a bad guy behind every tree and even neighbors are potential molesters. It is truly bizarre.

  94. BMS June 5, 2013 at 10:08 am #

    My alternative to ‘Be Careful’ is ‘You might want to think that through’. Unless it is a “LOOK OUT!!” situation (an oncoming car or something) what I usually want them to do is think ahead to the consequences. So you want to build a skateboard ramp off the back porch? Well, you’ll be going over concrete. That’s gonna hurt if you fall off. If you build it off the playhouse, you’ll land on grass instead. Ah, but the grass has sticks all over it. Maybe you want to put those on the woodpile first. Do you think a helmet would be a good plan? Leading them through it this way gives them the ammunition to consider consequences. Telling them no will cause them to either do it behind my back or sulk off without learning something. Making them ponder the possible ways this can go bad and having them readjust their plan accordingly is a learning experience. Because of this, I really don’t worry about them as much as some of my friends, even when they are working with power tools.

  95. AMB June 5, 2013 at 4:05 pm #

    It seems to me that in order for “free range parenting” to work well, the adults in the community need to fulfill their end of the social contract. Everyone should try to be out and about in their communities and become familiar with their neighbors and their local environments. And the yellow hats are useless unless an adult or older kid is willing to lend a hand if needed. (By lending a hand, I don’t mean complain to the parents or call CPS. I mean simply treating children as other community members and not as untouchables.)

    I have gotten puzzled or apologetic looks from parents when I get into a conversation with a kid at a playground or other public venue. But I like kids and I enjoy it very much when a child asks me a question or starts chatting with me. I seem to be in the minority there. I’ve seen my daughter try to chat with strange adults and the reaction is often anxious – tongue-tied, looking around frantically, etc. – if not a total brush off. Of course, I’ve found that many “respectable” types often have terrible manners!

    When my daughter was 2 or 3, we were visiting relatives out of town and went out to a restaurant during a less busy time of day. An older couple (French, by the way) a couple of tables over were enjoying their dinner on the patio and were charmed by my daughter. The woman invited my daughter to come over and visit. Before long, she had her in her lap and they were both taken with one another! It was very sweet for everyone.

    My point is that if we as adults also examined our own values and attitudes about how we treat children as community members, we might break down some barriers here.

  96. Papilio June 5, 2013 at 4:23 pm #

    @NicoleK: “carriem, on June 4th, 2013 at 12:49 am Said:

    I think the purpose of the hats is to let people know these kids are new at navigating the transit system. I have a couple shorties that are really babied sometimes (even for here) because people don’t know how old they really are. Yellow hat=might need help. No hat=probably an old hand.”


  97. D June 5, 2013 at 7:28 pm #

    That’s not the main reason why American kids will not rule the world: it’s because Asians are smarter, better students, and less lazy.

  98. Warren June 5, 2013 at 10:47 pm #

    When students in university are having their parents settle conflicts and issues for them…………..and parents are going to job interviews with the applicant……..what more signs do you need?

  99. Jade June 6, 2013 at 10:35 am #

    I’m from Germany but recently I studied in Japan for nine months together with students from China.
    Those won’t rule the world either.
    While they were good and sometimes even excellent students they were completely helpless regarding everything else life would throw at them – cleaning their rooms, putting a nail into the wall, travelling somewhere by bus…
    And in class one day they failed completely with a task: They were asked for their opinion on a text.
    They couldn’t answer that because the answer was not in the textbook.
    It was kind of depressing hearing them read out paragraph after paragraph hoping that the answer would be in one of them.
    So, no “Asians” (whoever you include in that group) won’t rule the world either.

  100. Emily June 6, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

    Our baby is Free Range–and when I say that I mean that, yes, we like to think of ourselves as Free Range parents, but she is constantly testing the boundaries of what I expect her to be doing, and I’ve practiced really hard since practically the day she was born to let her guide what she gets to do. I’m not a particularly reactionary parent anyway, but dang it if this kid isn’t going to be a trick pony rider in the circus or a test pilot or something. I found it very helpful to read on your site the other day the suggestion about giving specific warnings rather than just saying “be careful”, and I mentioned it to my husband, so now we say things like “Watch your head!” and “The floor is wet, so make sure you don’t slip!” She’s young but it’s good for us to be in the habit. If I’m going to say something, it might as well be effective. On the other side, then, if I feel the urge to praise her, or I can tell she’s really pleased with herself, I try to make sure to say, “Wow, you’ve really gotten good at that!” or “You’re working so hard, and you got it!” I’m always nearby (because she’s still so little) but I try to make sure she doesn’t have to be aware of it. It’s my job, not hers, and she’s too busy doing hers to worry about me.

  101. Ann June 6, 2013 at 3:43 pm #

    Odd because here in America the most overprotective parents I know are the ones of Asian descent.

  102. Amanda Matthews June 6, 2013 at 4:56 pm #

    @Ann I’m of asian descent and most of the asian parents I know are overbearing and set too many/too high goals, but are not overprotective. I.e. they expect their kids to go directly to piano class after school, then come home, or help out at the family business, do homework and practice piano for x more hours; but the kid walks from school to piano class etc. on their own…

  103. Bernard June 7, 2013 at 11:49 am #

    “The yellow hats are a signal to the community around them: Look out for us. But the professor’s college students products of a culture that had taught them to be suspicious — gasped. Here in the U.S., those hats would make those kids a target!”

    There is no way our western societies will ever be healthy again unless we stop raising generations of (now college age students) from perceiving life as a series of perverted events. What is frightening in this scenario of college student reactions is exactly that – they react rather than think. They see life as a perverted environment rather than an awe inspiring opportunity to shine. Says a lot about the present mental health of our continent.

  104. Bernard June 7, 2013 at 11:52 am #

    Dear Ann, It is not odd that you would see Asian parents in “America” as the most protective. . . Look at the environment they have introduced to their children! All they’re doing is assimilating into the way of life they have recently adopted.


  1. Why Buying More Stuff Isn't Going To Help You Be a Perfect Parent - School of Smock - June 24, 2013

    […] Why American Kids Will Not Rule the World […]

  2. "I Can't Stop Praising My Kid!": An Unfortunate Update - School of Smock - July 16, 2013

    […] Why American Kids Will Not Rule the World […]